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There is a quote from Maureen Corrigan of NPR on the book cover of “Crusoe’s Daughter”: “Gardam is the best British writer you’ve never heard of.” She is the recipient of many literary awards: twice awarded the Costa (formerly the Whitbread) for best novel of the year (“The Queen of the Tamborine”; “The Hollow Land”); short listed for the Booker Prize (“God on the Rocks”); a finalist for the Orange Prize (“Old Filth”); various New York Times Notable Book of the Year awards, among others. What drew me to read this classic work of British literature, was that it did not receive any awards. It was the author’s favorite work.

It is an old fashion tale, not now in vogue. On one level, it is the life story of child orphaned to her spinster aunts and relatives in the Midlands of England during the first half of the 20th Century. On another level, it mentally parallels the vicissitudes of Crusoe’s marooned existence. Polly Flint, a sheltered child of a Yorkshire seaman, finds company in literature. Her faux realism and rejection of romanticism is due to absence not experience. She gravitates from agnosticism to religion, following Crusoe’s pathway and seemingly replicating the life of some of her aunts. Ms. Gardam drew Polly Flint’s character from her mother’s life, but the novel has a third level. Through Polly Flint, the book is a review of the English novel. Daniel Defoe’s novel was mass market literature of its day and was not considered to be literature in the classical sense. Ms. Flint is an ardent defender.

Jane Gardam is a fabulous writer. The characters are as well drawn as Dickens. The language is descriptive without excess. For me the latter is a problem for many writers. Ms. Gardam has perfect pitch. It is vintage writing that compares favorable with George Eliot, Jane Austen, and Dickens, although for a different era. Ms. Gardam plots a story-line along diverging paths that avoids sentimentality. There is realism in her choices that parallels history and Ms. Flint’s perspective.

While an excellent choice for anyone who cherishes good writing, it might particularly appeal to those who read women’s literature. It most certainly can be read by children from Middle School onward, although it may be too uneventful for those not interested in period pieces. The book can be funny at times, but it would be a suicidal choice for young boys who do not have a literary bent.

Specifically I would recommend this novel to those who want to learn how to write well. If you are not in this category, read it anyway. I am adding it to my short list of best reads.

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